Ten years and five films into the Transformers franchise, director Michael Bay is starting to fatigue. At least it appears that way from this boisterous but largely empty follow-up to Age of Extinction. I missed this one in theaters, but was surprised to discover the King Arthur era scenes heavily publicized in the trailers are only a small part of the film. Transformers: The Last Knight has a convoluted and somewhat silly plot that again attempts to weave revisionist history into the narrative. Merlin, of Arthurian legend, in 484 AD begs a group of twelve Transformers called the Knights of Iacon to help King Arthur defeat the Saxons. The Knights give Merlin a powerful staff and assist him, but warn that an evil presence will come to earth looking for the object. Years later, after the events in Extinction, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) discovers his home planet, Cybertron, is ruined and desolate. He meets Quintessa, a powerful being that claims to be the mother of the Transformers. Quintessa brainwashes Optimus and names him Nemesis Prime before tasking him with recovering the Knights' staff. She plans to awaken an ancient enemy on earth, Unicron, use the staff to drain its power, and save Cyberton. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) gets roped in to help the newly leaderless Autobots as a worldwide battle begins.
You won't be surprised to learn this fifth Transformers film is a lot like the previous four: loud, long, handsomely shot, and full of impressive practical and visual effects. If you hated the arguably better earlier films, this one will really chafe your ass. Wahlberg, especially, looks bored here. He brought welcome humor and relatability to Extinction after the departure of Shia LaBeouf from the series, but practically sleepwalks through this outing. Gone is Cade's daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who played a major role in the previous movie. The Last Knight explains that she is at college but does not communicate with her dad because he and the Autobots are wanted by the government. That is a problem, too. After the Hong Kong battle, governments around the world joined to form a Transformer Reaction Force and all Transformers and their protectors are federal fugitives. William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), who once partnered with the Autobots, is an unenthusiastic member of the TRF, and Seymour Simmons (John Turturro), formerly a government agent, hides out in Cuba, the last Transformer-friendly nation. It seems these world leaders forget the sacrifices made by Optimus and company to stop the Decepticons when forming the TRF.
The plot of The Last Knight is largely forgotten amid car chases, submarine battles and alien-ship marathons. I can't say I expected or wanted an especially intricate plot in a Transformers film, but this one feels especially lazy. Cade is summoned to the U.K. to meet Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock), who know about the secret history of the Transformers on earth. Wembly is a gorgeous professor at Oxford and becomes the film's heroine. Back too is fan-favorite Bumblebee (voiced by Erik Aadahl), still looking for his voice box, and he becomes a de facto leader in Optimus' absence. The group joins together to stop Nemesis Prime and Megatron, now working for Quintessa, and prevent earth from being obliterated to save Cybertron. The film's scale and locations are bigger and more exhaustive than ever, but The Last Knight is more overwhelming than satisfying. It appears much of this film was shot against green screens. The characters frequently run around alien environments that are impressively rendered, but the interaction is not particularly convincing. This is unusual for Bay, who often shoots in camera and adds VFX in post-production.
I was not bored during the film's 154-minute running time, but I did find my mind wandering during some of the extended action sequences. I had the same reaction during the first film ten years ago, and wrote about that action fatigue in a review that appeared in my hometown paper. Bay throws so much at the screen that it is hard to focus on any one character or conflict. The reason this film disappoints is that Bay has genuine filmmaking talent when he is actually interested in a project. I'm not saying he doesn't care about Transformers, but the passion is not there. His "Bay style" is better digested in pet projects like Pain & Gain, which offers style, substance, humor, action and an invested Wahlberg. Nevertheless, the Transformers films continue to impress at the box office, especially in the ever-expanding Chinese market, and receive decent Cinemascores and audience reactions, so they shall continue. This is my least favorite film of the series so far, and the franchise could use a creative overhaul.
This version of Transformers: The Last Knight offers the film in 3D and 2D high-definition presentations. Bay again shot certain sequences with IMAX cameras, and the Blu-rays offer shifting aspect ratios, from the wider theatrical 2.39:1 to the IMAX ratio of 1.90:1. The 2D/1080p/AVC-encoded image is gorgeous, with exceptional fine-object detail, abundant texture, bold colors and inky blacks. You get the typical Bay color overload, with oversaturated reds and oranges, blown-out highlights and teal overtones; all of which look as they should. The film looks great in motion, and the effects blending is impressive. Flying debris, explosions, facial details and alien spacecraft all are presented with the utmost clarity. The film receives its own dedicated disc, and I noticed no issues with digital noise, compression artifacts or digital tinkering. The 3D/1080p/MVC-encoded image is similarly impressive if expectedly darker. The 3D version adds depth and immersive, screen-popping effects without becoming distracting. I noticed no issues with ghosting or blur, and was quite pleased with this 3D version. A note about the shifting aspect ratios: Although the IMAX scenes look amazing and offer even more fine-object detail and depth, the shifting ratios can be moderately distracting. For whatever reason, many of the pick-up shots are not filmed for IMAX, so the ratios frequently change back and forth within a scene. It is noticeable, somewhat annoying and a bit odd.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is expectedly reference quality. Bay's films always offer impressively immersive sound design, and The Last Knight is no exception. The frequent effects pans sear through the surrounds. Transformers action rumbles the subwoofer, explosions rattle through the entire sound field, and ambient effects immerse the viewer. Dialogue is crystal clear and layered appropriately amid effects and score. This is truly a theatrical-quality presentation. The disc also includes English, French, Spanish and Portuguese lossy mixes and English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This three-disc set is packed in a standard Blu-ray case that is wrapped in an embossed slipcover with unimpressive artwork. The 3D disc comes on the left side of the case and the 2D disc and bonus disc are stacked on the right. Paramount offers both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies via a code on an insert. Extras are not as extensive as for previous films, but still offer interesting behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. Merging Mythologies (19:53/HD) discusses merging Arthurian legend with the Transformers universe, and covers the cast, sets and props. Climbing the Ranks (8:48/HD) discusses the military characters and connections within the film, and The Royal Treatment: Transformers in the U.K. (27:04/HD) is an extended piece on filming scenes in England. Things wrap up with Motors and Magic (14:47/HD), about several of the Transformers; Alien Landscape: Cybertron (7:15/HD), about Quintessa and the Transformers' home world; and One More Giant Effin' Movie (6:45/HD), a wrap-up of sorts about Bay's filmmaking style.
This fifth Transformers film offers more of the same - for better or worse - but the fatigue is starting to show from director Michael Bay. The plot is needlessly convoluted, and The Last Knight suffers from a lack of Optimus Prime and an uninterested Mark Wahlberg. The 3D/2D Blu-ray offers fantastic video and sound and some decent bonus features. Fans will want to purchase this; everyone else can Rent It.